Vincent Peillon: the ‘Third man’ in the French elections

Vincent Peillon [European Parliament]

Vincent Peillon, an MEP and France’s former education minister, will declare his candidacy for the 2017 presidential election this weekend. The surge of new candidates on the left is showing no sign of drying up. EURACTIV France reports.

The Socialist Party duel expected between France’s former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who resigned on Tuesday (6 December), and Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister for the economy, has gained a surprise third wheel. Vincent Peillon, the 56-year-old MEP who served as education minister for the first three years of François Hollande’s mandate, is expected to announce his intent to run in the coming days, according to several Socialist sources in the European Parliament.

One week before the ballot closes, he plans to appeal to socialist voters disappointed by Hollande’s withdrawal and who may not feel represented by any of the other candidates. “He is a candidate for the heart of the Socialist Party, equidistant between Manuel Valls and the rebels,” said French MP Patrick Mennucci, a Peillon supporter.

Bringing the primary to life

This surprise candidacy, which could still be followed by others, has brought the socialist primary to life, where before it had failed to inspire. Hollande’s decision not to compete, followed by the Valls’ announcement that he would stand and now this decision by Peillon, have brought the left-wing primary back to the centre of French political life.

Whether it can recreate the hype of the Republican primary in November remains to be seen. In any case, the left now has a far broader choice of candidates than the centre-right had.

The MEP Peillon joins Manuel Valls, Arnaud Montebourg, Benoit Hamon, Marie-Noëlle Lienemann, Gérard Filoche, François de Rugy, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, Pierre Larrouturou, Bastien Faudot and Sylvia Pinel.

Pledges of support

While not all of Hollande’s supporters intend to gather behind this surprise candidate, some at least have pledged their support. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and a very popular figure in the French Socialist Party, has made it known in her entourage that she sees Peillon’s candidacy “favourably”.

Several MEPs, including Pervenche Berès, the leader of the French Socialist delegation in the European Parliament, are also said to support Peillon. The former education minister could also find support domestically among French MPs.

Return of a hermit

Peillon was a member of the French parliament from 1997 to 2002 but has spent ten of the last twelve years travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg as an MEP.

Between his job teaching philosophy in Neuchatel in Switzerland and a very discrete presence in the European Parliament, where he does not take part in Socialist group meetings or have any contact with the press, the former minister has been something of a hermit.

His recent report on security in the Middle East and North Africa is his first foray into the subject of international security.

Peillon now feels he can carve out his own political space in the crowded primary, between Hollande’s surrogate Valls and the more left-wing candidates like Montebourg, Hamon and Lienemann.

Valls must step up

The centre of the party was not previously represented on the list of candidates. In the last few weeks, especially since he announced his candidacy, Valls has been sending out feelers to his left in an attempt to position himself as the Socialist Party’s unifying candidate. But he is not universally popular, and some on the left resent his role in pushing out Hollande.

Manuel Valls: Tough-talker with French presidential ambitions

When two journalists published the book ‘A President Shouldn’t Say That’ which quotes François Hollande disparaging judges, insulting footballers and revealing state secrets, Prime Minister Manuel Valls could not hide his “shame” and “anger”.

This is where Peillon could carve out his niche. Taken by surprise by the announcement, Valls reacted badly, saying Peillon’s candidacy “weakened” the process.

Primary in January

Vincent Peillon will officially launch his candidacy next weekend and hold a meeting of his supporters on Tuesday (13 December) during the Strasbourg plenary session. He has yet to give any signals on what kind of policies could be expected under his presidency.

Candidates for the Socialist Party primary have until next Thursday (15 December) to submit their paperwork. The primary will take place on 22 and 29 January with votes cast at around 8,000 polling stations.

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